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Kilograms, centigrade and convection, Oh My!

30 Nov

I’ve prepared a lot of turkeys. A conservative estimate would be that I have prepared 40 over the course of about 36 years. My first was when I was in my mid-twenties and decided I had to be the hostess for Thanksgiving and my mom had to help. I was terrified of ruining the Butterball. The years we did not prepare a turkey for Thanksgiving at home I surely made one for Christmas or sometime during the autumn.  And I graduated over the years from frozen (Norbest with a built-in timer!) to all-natural farm-raised turkeys from an organic store. But the most satisfying turkey-venture was this year, in Rome.

Leonardo reads the menu - in English and Italian - as we start with the soup.

Leonardo reads the menu – in English and Italian – as we start with the soup.

Our friends, Alessandra and Francesco, invited us to prepare the feast in their beautiful apartment. They would provide the turkey and wine while Ric and I would prepare the contorni (side dishes). Knowing they had an Italian oven, which are smaller than most we have in the U.S., and since this type of meal is a bit unusual in Italy, we gathered over supper the Friday before Thanksgiving to plan our attack. I warned them that turkey takes time: I will be in your kitchen much of the day.  Since Thursday was a work-and-school day here for all but employees of the American Embassy, I worried it might be an imposition. But Ale and Francesco were undeterred and in fact invited a crowd to experience the American feast.  There would be 11 Italians at the table, plus Ric and I. We decided that if it would fit in their oven, a 7 kilogram turkey would be a nice size, about 15 pounds U.S. Their friend Stefania would provide dessert.

Beautiful butternut squash and fresh sage on the way to making a velvety soup.

Beautiful butternut squash and fresh sage on the way to making a velvety soup.

Early Thursday we headed out to pick up artisan bread for the dressing and fresh green beans, managing to get in a 6 km walk in advance of the feast.  While we were inhaling the glorious smells at Roscioli, Francesco called and said “You need to talk to Ale. She has the turkey and it’s big.” Ale confirmed: her butcher has provided an 8 kg (17 pound) hen turkey and the butcher says it will take 5 hours to cook. Can we come earlier to start the cooking?

Ale's elegant tableware from Castelli, famous for ceramics.

Ale’s elegant tableware from Castelli, famous for ceramics.

We planned to serve the soup at 19:30 and the main course about 20:30, so we figured the bird needed to go in the oven about 16:30, if it weighed 7 kg. Now we had 8 kg to deal with, and (surprise!) a convection oven, which changes the cooking game considerably, plus the butcher’s recommendation to cook it in a low oven for 5 hours. Yikes!  Arriving about 14:45, Ric set to chopping herbs for my herb-butter turkey recipe. By 15:20, after calculating and re-calculating cooking time and centigrade-versus-Fahrenheit, we had herb-butter under the skin and put her in the oven trussed up as tightly as we could, just managing to squeeze her into the space available.  (Ric has a wonderful little app on the tablet that does all manner of conversions since our American-system brains have to constantly deal with length, volume, temperature and distance conversions.)  With any luck, she would be done by 20:00, giving 30 minutes for “rest” and to make the final prep.

Every good dinner starts with prosecco. Rita, Valentino, Francesco, Eleonora and Nello.

Every good dinner starts with prosecco. From left, me (elbow), Rita, Valentino, Francesco, Eleonora and Nello.

Whew! Deep breath, now all we have to do is monitor, baste, add broth, and prepare the contorni. Ric is a terrific sous chef and spent the next hour carving up butternut squash for soup, peeling potatoes, and various other tasks assigned, while the kids came and went. All-in-all Alessandra, Ric and I spent a compatible couple of hours doing prep, setting the table, chatting and enjoying the time immensely. At each check on the turkey I worried it was getting too brown, but my research on roasting a turkey in a convection oven said do not cover with foil. By 17:30 I was nervous: it looked done. My brand new meat thermometer (Celsius, of course!) said it was done in most parts.  Can’t be! Two hours at 160C (325F) and it’s done!?!?!? The main event was still 3 hours off! We wanted the guests to see this magnificent beast, but how could we hold it safely not have it dried out like the scene from “Christmas Vacation?”

Ale said “We must Google it!” We typed in “how to hold a turkey safely when it’s done early.” Amazing

Eleonora, Stefania and Francesco share the cranberries

Nello, Eleonora, Stefania and Francesco

number of hits! Who knew?  Survey says: aluminum foil, low low temp (about 200F), and moisture in the pan beneath the turkey.

Can I tell you this was the most beautiful turkey I’ve ever made? And the moistest? And the best-tasting? My updated recipe for perfection at Thanksgiving = The company of people you enjoy + Natural Italian turkey + Convection oven + Creativity and a little experience with turkeys.

Ignore the goofy-looking cook and focus on the bird: perfection!! Sara clearly finds me amusing.

Ignore the goofy-looking cook and focus on the bird: perfection!! Sara clearly finds me amusing.

I think the only side dish quite familiar to the guests was mashed potatoes. Gravy is not normally made in Italy, nor dressing/stuffing as we do in the U.S. (mine is made with sausage, apples and raisins). We managed to acquire fresh whole cranberries (shipped in from Massachusetts)  and made sweet potatoes with gorgonzola.  Stefania’s tarte tartin and homemade whoopee pies made for a festive and tasty finish.  See the whole menu here. Multiple portions were consumed and even the kids were adventurous in trying foods they’d not seen before. No one seemed to miss pasta.

Everyone who has prepared a Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey dinner knows that the final prep is chaotic. Getting stuffing, Potatoes, sweet potatoes, veg, gravy and turkey all on the table at the same time. Ronnie is a blur as  he speeds to help!

Everyone who has prepared a  big turkey dinner knows that the final prep is chaotic, getting stuffing, potatoes, sweet potatoes, veg, gravy and turkey all on the table at the same time. Ronnie is a blur as he speeds to help. Thanks to Ronnie, Ric was off clean-up duty for a change.

Dinner went off without a hitch. Except as usual I forgot something, sending the sweet potatoes to the table sans the candied pecans on top, and I forgot the peperoncini for the green beans. (I think I am the only one that noticed.)

Last year, our first Thanksgiving in Italy, we knew we would really miss the large crowd we tended to gather around our table in Portland, so we celebrated in a totally non-traditional manner. This year we had a memorable, wonderful day thanks to Alessandra, Francesco, their family and friends. We are very grateful to have been able to share the traditions and spend our holiday with them, and to them for opening their home and kitchen to the American Invasion.

I am so getting a convection oven the next time we need to buy an appliance.

Thanksgiving green beans with red peppers and American bacon. Not your mother's green bean casserole.

Thanksgiving green beans with red peppers and American bacon. Not your mother’s green bean casserole.

I ragazzi doing what kids usually do after dinner.

Giordano, Leonardo, Giuseppe and Sara, doing what kids usually do after dinner.

Giuseppe and Giordano at table - even the kids liked the soup!

Giuseppe and Giordano at table – even the kids liked the soup!

Me with my friend and Italian teacher, Eleonora.

Me with my friend and Italian teacher, Eleonora.

Kitchen action stops fo a quick pre-dinner drink. Ale, Eleonora., Francesco and me.

Kitchen action stops fo a quick pre-dinner drink. Ale, Eleonora, Francesco and me.

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22 Responses to “Kilograms, centigrade and convection, Oh My!”

  1. Nigel December 6, 2013 at 22:40 #

    Laurel that dinner looks wonderful!! We have an old – very soon to be replaced – fan oven. We will replace it with a real convection oven, spurred on by your story. How did the Italians like the dressing? Sounds yummy…. I’m jealous.

    Like

    • gooddayrome December 7, 2013 at 05:56 #

      Ciao Nigel! The Italians liked *la farcitura *very much! I made both a vegetarian version and one with sausage. Both had apples and raisins and were made with artisan bread. They also really seemed to like cranberries, which I do not make very sweet as I think that works better with the heavy meal, gravy, etc. All-in-all I was pleased to see how much everyone ate and enjoyed!

      *Laurel L. Barton* *Roma, Italia* http://www.GoodDayRome.com

      Like

  2. Anita HIlmoe December 5, 2013 at 06:25 #

    That’s neat that you got to expose them to a great American tradition, a great feast with family and friends.

    Like

  3. ckleonard December 1, 2013 at 04:28 #

    What a beautiful meal! The turkey looked so perfect! You did good my friends. How do Italians usually prepare turnkey? If snow is to be, looks like Monday into Tuesday. However, I’m getting out tomorrow to pick up a couple of things (cat litter being one) in case it really does come and I need to spend time at home on top of this little hill! :o) Since I retired, I don’t get out in it and drive anymore!

    Like

    • gooddayrome December 1, 2013 at 07:48 #

      I wouldn’t drive in it either, Carolyn! Cat litter imperative, of course!

      Italians usually eat turkey parts/pieces, not whole, although I think it is more common whole at Christmas.

      Like

  4. graciamc December 1, 2013 at 02:58 #

    I also had a convection oven in a previous house but never knew what to do with it. That was before Google!! Happy Holidays!

    Like

    • gooddayrome December 1, 2013 at 07:49 #

      We were waxing nostalgic about the “Butterball Hotline” the other day. I expect that’s an online service now, too. Wishing you and Will and fabulous holiday season!

      Like

  5. Kim December 1, 2013 at 01:21 #

    I miss your cooking! Everything looked wonderful and I’m glad you two had a nice Thanksgiving. We were in San Diego with my folks.

    Like

    • gooddayrome December 1, 2013 at 07:51 #

      We miss cooking for you! You and Mark would have fit in beautifully with the crowd on Thursday, by the way. One guest was vegetarian so I adapted stuffing for her. 🙂 Un’abbraccio!

      Like

  6. Sharon November 30, 2013 at 21:25 #

    Happy Thanksgiving! Your bird looks FABULOUS!!
    I had a convection oven in Vancouver and never knew how to use it!
    Ciao Bella!

    Like

  7. Debbie Fischer November 30, 2013 at 20:29 #

    What a beautiful Italian adventure for all! We’re sharing TGiving with a 1 month old (Griffin) whose lungs are well developed and is a total love bug (or turkey?) Love your posts, Laurel!!

    Like

  8. Michelle B. November 30, 2013 at 19:58 #

    Hi Laurel and happy belated Thanksgiving! That was a huge bird! I too have always wanted a convection oven, they are amazing! I don’t usually comment but I always look forward to reading your posts. They never disappoint and are so funny and engaging. Have a wonderful holiday season and I look forward to reading you soon! 🙂

    Like

    • gooddayrome November 30, 2013 at 22:59 #

      More to come, my dear. More to come! Nice to know you are “out there.”

      Like

  9. Diana November 30, 2013 at 19:04 #

    Looks like it was a lovely Thanksgiving for you guys. We had Thanksgiving in the warm sunshine of Palm Springs with family. Had a wonderful brunch at the resort near our condo.

    Like

    • gooddayrome November 30, 2013 at 19:08 #

      Sounds like you made a wise choice in terms of a place to spend the holiday, Diana. It seems Portland may be due for snow, from what I hear! A big hug to you! Enjoy the holiday season!

      Like

    • Marcia kakiuchi November 30, 2013 at 22:54 #

      That turkey looks wonderful! We love our convection oven too

      Like

      • gooddayrome November 30, 2013 at 22:58 #

        Nice to hear from You Marcia! Ric says “hi”!

        Like

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] sharp contrast to last year’s memorable and wonderful event, we choose to spend a quiet Thanksgiving this year: no cooking. I made a turkey breast on Sunday […]

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